Saturday, October 27, 2012

Prosecutor Ends Investigation of MoCo's Referendum Advocacy But Activities Might Not Be Kosher // AG's Opinion Requested

BACKGROUND: Maryland Juice has been reporting on the heated battle between Montgomery County's government and its police union (FOP Lodge 35). The fight concerns MoCo's advocacy (using taxpayer resources) for Question B, which would eliminate "effects bargaining" rights for police union members. The FOP recently asked the State of Maryland to investigate these activities, alleging that MoCo was in criminal violation of the law. The police union claimed MoCo was engaging in campaign activities without registering a committee and that their use of tax dollars was not kosher.

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION CLOSED, BUT ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OPINION REQUESTED: A State Prosecutor thought the circumstances warranted an investigation and started looking into the matter earlier this week. But yesterday, they released a letter closing their criminal investigation. In their letter, they noted that MoCo government officials and employees had relied upon their County Attorney's legal advice in engaging in Question B advocacy (excerpt below):
STATE PROSECUTOR: ...any actions of County officials and employees in this case were clearly undertaken without criminal intent in good-faith reliance upon reasonable and competent (even if erroneous) legal advice. For that reason we have closed our criminal investigation into this matter....

Even though the prosecutor did not think criminal charges were in order, he still seems to believe that MoCo is not operating within the bounds of the law and has now asked Attorney General Doug Gansler's office to weigh in with an advisory opinion. See the pertinent excerpts from the Prosecutor's letter below:
STATE PROSECUTOR: The State Prosecutor initially concluded that the plain language of the statutes here at issue is clear, unequivocal and unambiguous. There are no express exceptions for the types of activity at issue here....

The Montgomery County Attorney finds the language of the statute and the applicable rules of interpretation sufficiently ambiguous....

This issue will, undoubtedly, arise again. The Montgomery County Attorney has suggested that a formal opinion of the Attorney General be sought to address these issues. The State Prosecutor agrees and requests that the Attorney General render an opinion....

The Prosecutor proceeded to ask Attorney General Doug Gansler's office to issue an advisory opinion on:
  1. whether a county government and its employees can use taxpayer resources for referenda without registering a campaign committee
  2. whether a county government and its employees are exempt from campaign finance rules
  3. whether a county government and its employees can use taxpayer resources for referenda

Below you can read the full letter from Maryland Prosecutor Emmet Davitt:
Maryland Prosecutor Letter

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